John Dominic Crossan
President of the Society of Biblical Literature 2012
Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature November 17, 2012 Chicago, Illinois
Introduction given by Carol L. Meyers
Vice President, Society of Biblical Literature
If you’ve read the announcement of this session in the SBL program book—and I suspect many of you have, or else you wouldn’t have decided to come to this lecture room at this time—you’ve read the biographical summary providing the basic facts about SBL president John Dominic Crossan. And even if you haven’t read that summary, you still probably know many of those basic facts. You are well aware that he is arguably the world’s foremost historical-Jesus scholar. (In fact, a local taxi driver, in finding out that the John Dominic Crossan was a passenger in his cab, exclaimed that he wanted to put a plaque there to show where the famous Crossan had sat during the cab ride!) You probably also know that he is a native of Ireland, that he was educated in both Ireland (where he earned his doctorate of divinity at the theological seminary of the national University of Ireland in Kildare) and in the United States, and that he also did postdoctoral work in Rome at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and in Jerusalem at the l’École biblique et archéologique française. You may also know that he was an ordained priest for many years, that he left the priesthood in 1969, and that he was on the faculty of DePaul University here in Chicago until he became professor emeritus in 1995. And if you’re not familiar with all the twists and turns—transitions, he calls them—in his long, distinguished, and fascinating career, you can read about them in his touching memoir, published in 2000: It’s a Long Way from Tipperary: What a Former Monk Discovered in His Search for the Truth, a book that, he quips, some might call “chicken soup for the soul” but would more accurately be characterized as “Irish stew for the mind.”
Those of you in New Testament studies, and many Hebrew Bible scholars too I suspect, know Dom to be a prolific writer. He is the author of a long list of articles, book chapters, and reviews as well as twenty-seven books, including his 1991 blockbuster The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, in which he engages textual analysis, social anthropology, and historical research (including the use of ancient documents and also archaeological materials) to reconstruct the life of Jesus. He wrote Historical Jesus, as he explains in his memoir, with his academic colleagues in mind as his readers. How wrong he was. We academics were hardly the only readers. The book became a religion best-seller, [End Page 3] for it is not only scholarly but also comprehensible by and appealing to nonspecialists—at least those willing to take on the challenge of reading a book that is more than five hundred pages long and contains a fair amount of technical analysis. Despite all the publicity, Dom expected this best-seller status to be fleeting. Again, how wrong he was. The Historical Jesus, along with the shorter version, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, which appeared a few years later, had and still has wide appeal to a range of intellectually curious people in the general public, many of whom are unhappy with various aspects of denominational Christianity. Indeed, the appeal of his books has hardly subsided. And it has led to a number of unexpected, unplanned, but enthusiastically welcomed developments in Dom’s career.
As I mentioned, Dom became professor emeritus in 1995. He may bear the title emeritus, but that title doesn’t really apply. Derived from Latin, the term emeritus signifies “one who has finished or completed one’s service,” or, as it is used in academia, “one who has left active professional service.” These definitions could hardly be further from the truth for Dom. For him, leaving the university meant the freedom...